Some years ago, Heath Lambert posted an article called, "What's wrong with Reparative Therapy?" This was my response at the time (1, 2, 3). (Note: He may have edited his article slightly - I don't have time to check it out, but feel free to alert me to anything that is no longer accurate).
Heath Lambert has a blog post called, "What's wrong with Reparative Therapy?" In it, he has done Christians a favour.
Lambert has given the swelling chorus of Christian leaders' complaints about Reparative Therapy some substance.
Before reading his blog post, I found responding to anti-Reparative Therapy comments was like trying to pin down a rumour. Everyone had heard one side of someone else's story, but no one was sitting down and explaining exactly what they thought the problem was.
Heath Lambert has done that.
The problem is, he hasn't done it very well...
Okay, so that's a little provocative. But I do feel Heath Lambert misses the mark quite substantially in his critique of Reparative Therapy.
How can I say that?
Well, I measured Lambert's blog post against my experience and knowledge of Living Waters in Australia, a ministry that used some of the same insights that Reparative Therapy (RT) uses.
And I found it wanting.
And when I read it accepting Lambert's descriptions of Reparative Therapy (RT) at face value (the accuracy of which is disputed in the now lost comments section).
I found it wanting, again. :)
Let me show you what I mean...
Lambert believes that RT (at least as expressed by Joseph Nicolosi in Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy) suffers from three misunderstandings: a misunderstood problem, a misunderstood pursuit, and a misunderstood process.
(With that sort of structure, is he a Baptist by any chance?)
Let's go through them one by one. I'll warn you though, this will probably take more than one post.
A MISUNDERSTOOD PROBLEM.
First, Lambert says RT traces the root of homosexuality to shame coming from a break in parental attachment. We can't accept this as a model, he says, because:
1) not all homosexuals report this sort of family dysfunction;
2) not all people who have this sort of family dysfunction struggle with homosexuality;
3) Lambert cannot accept there is a link between shame and homosexuality;
4) There is no doctrine of sin in Reparation Therapy.
As I read it, Lambert has problems of his own in this section:
1) Lambert seems to want close to a 100% fit.
Lambert himself acknowledges a significant percentage of men struggling with homosexuality fit that model. Not only that, but Nicolosi reports that there are many who find help through identifying with and working therapeutically through that model.
Yet Lambert wants more. He wants outliers to be explained. In fact, he seems to want close to, if not actually achieving, 100% in the explanatory stakes. Where else in counselling or therapy are figures of close to 100% required? Even within the church, the wise Christian understands that two people may have reached the same sin via different paths, and therefore require different underlying sins to be dealt with. At the same time, one can recognise that there is a path more commonly travelled, and make use of that knowledge to help people to freedom.
Reparative Theory has made some progress. If there are outliers, they need to be recognised, but that's not a reason to throw the whole model away.
2) Lambert wants everyone who has similar familial dysfunction to struggle with homosexuality.
According to Lambert, put any human being in the same scenario, and there must be the same outcome. Well, that's what he seems to be suggesting needs to be the case with the RT model. But this is just the problem above turned the other way around. Why would everyone with relational breaks with their parents have to develop homosexual struggles for it to be a common problem for some?
Instead of saying that everyone who experiences shameful childhood issues with their parents proceed to act out homosexually as an adult, I understand Nicolosi (and others) to be saying that those struggling with homosexuality will often share a similar dysfunctional family history.
Do you see the difference?
Let me put it another way. Not everyone responds the same way to external stimuli, but a good number of people who struggle with homosexuality are those who have responded to familial dysfunction in ways that lead to homosexuality. It seems reasonable, then, to take a closer look at those dysfunctions.
What about those who do not fit that model? Is it important to consider how to help them? Of course. But is that a reason to throw RT out altogether?
3) Lambert cannot accept there is a link between shame and homosexuality.
Lambert says he does not understand "the logical link between the shameful losses of attachment during childhood and adult homosexual acts". It has been clearly explained, but Lambert’s response is this:
[Neither] The desire to compensate for a loss of male approval nor the longing to cover shame lead inexorably to homosexual acting out. It cannot. Too many people experience these painful realities without resorting to homosexuality.
Once again, similar to the above, Lambert seems to say everyone who desires to compensate for a loss of male approval or has experienced the shame of the loss of parental attachment must “inexorably” struggle with homosexuality, or he's not prepared to concede there is a link.
Isn't part of learning observing links, and then trying to understand how these might work? Just because Lambert doesn't understand the links that others have successfully utilised does not mean they are not there.
Is there room for improvement in understanding? Always. But to say, as Lambert does again, that because we don't know everything we know nothing, is quite ridiculous.
4) Where's sin?
But it appears that Lambert's main problem is that the explanation given for the development of homosexual struggles does not explicitly incorporate the Christian doctrine of sin.
Now this is a touchy subject, but let me make two observations here:
a) Non-Christian therapists are able to help non-Christian clients struggling with homosexuality to experience freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction.
I realise this is counter-intuitive because homosexuality has been presented to us for so long as something so unalterable that only Christ could change it. But the fact is that in the same way people can lose weight, beat depression, recover from cancer, become sober and learn financial responsibility without reference to God, people can also find freedom from homosexual desires without reference to God.
Because homosexuality is not Sin. It is a sin. It is a sin that arises from deeper sins of cause and effect which can be challenged and changed - just like overweight people can change their lifetime of overeating through psychological work - without changing the main issue of Sin through Jesus.
And, of course, it works the other way around.
The main issue of Sin can be dealt with through Jesus, and yet Christians can still struggle with sins that arise from deeper sins of cause and effect for a lifetime.
So the question is: Should Christians take advantage of any secular help for any issue in their life? Is it permissible to take secular insights, measure them against the Word of God, and benefit from them? If Lambert says no, then he needs to explain a much broader point than the one he's making in his blog post about homosexuality.
b) Sin is not simple. There is a long history in the church of people recognising that applying the cross of Christ to our lives is not merely a matter of "praying away...any sin". If Heath Lambert cannot understand the connection between shame and homosexuality, then I suggest he look at biblical teaching on shame and see how it leads to any sin; that he look at how the Bible teaches that a lack of love leads to desperate actions that grasp for love; that he reads up on how idolatry binds the idolater to the idol; and that he consider that "the sin underneath the sin" is not just a catchy phrase, but a simplified description of the matrix of sins that make up our lives.
So, where Lambert sees no Christian doctrine of sin, I see diagnosis of sins (though often using different terminology) and the secular use of Christian principles such as that of familial love which ideally should find their end in the love of God through Christ.
This is not to say that there is no need for Christian correction or refinement of RT, but Lambert has failed so far to demonstrate that we need a blanket rejection of RT.
To check out the next two parts of this critique, click here (Part 2, Part 3).